Tips for Planning Your National Park Vacation

Park permits are selling out the day they are released. Make sure you well prepared for your next national park camping trip.

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We’ve had a strange, unprecedented couple of years. Most of us spent 2020 cooped up in our homes during the lockdown. And now that 2021 has rolled around and many people have gotten vaccinated, they are eager to get back out into the world. As a result, national and state parks are overwhelmed with visitors right now, and we are seeing bookings stretching far in advance for the rest of the year.

In this post, we are going to tell you a bit more about the floods of vacationers making a rush on outdoor parks, as well as what you can do to prepare successfully for a state park camping trip of your own.

Demand for State Park Camping Permits Has Soared

To get a feel for how crazy demand is right now, let’s take a look at a few recent news posts.

The Chronicle posted on July 5th about how campsites are selling out at Washington parks. Offering some examples, the article says, "At many parks, campsites have been selling like hot cakes this season. Take Kanaskat-Palmer State Park in Ravensdale: weekend campsite reservations began selling out in March 2021, where they usually begin selling out in June, said Park Aide Ryan LaRont. Recently, the park has started to sell out on weekdays as well. LaRont used to refer visitors to Dash Point State Park in Federal Way when Kanaskat-Palmer sold out, but that isn’t always an option anymore."

Because of the high demand, some parks are starting to increase camping costs as well. Here is a post that explains how camping rates have doubled for non-residents who are staying at Idaho state parks.

There are also destinations that did not require reservations in the past, but do require them now. For example, Out There Colorado says, "Thanks to new restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with general overcrowding, several popular destinations in Colorado now require visitors to have reservations. Here’s a glimpse at some of the iconic destinations where reservations are required, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Hanging Lake, Mount Evans, and more."

In these locations, you not only need to book camping, but also book a reservation to simply enter the parks.

What Should You Do to Plan Your 2021 State Park Trip?

Keeping in mind all of the changes taking place, how can you prepare for a successful state park vacation in 2021?

1. Check what reservations you need to place, and book them as early as possible.

As soon as you can, start researching what kinds of reservations you need to make. Do not assume that once you have booked your campsite, you are all good to go. You may also need to place a reservation for timed entry to the park.

But that depends on the park. In some cases, just placing a service reservation (like a campsite booking) is all you need. Only someone who is not making such a reservation might have to make a timed-entry reservation.

Also be aware that you may have to pay an entry fee separate from your reservation.

2. Be prepared to pay higher fees than usual to camp.

Speaking of fees, they are higher than they used to be for some parks, so check them in advance. You do not want to be caught off guard.

3. Check for closures before you go, and follow all COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

Since new variants of COVID-19 are floating around, it is possible that there will be more lockdowns at parks and local businesses during 2021.

For that reason, even if you have a reservation for a state park, you should double-check before you head out to make sure that there are no active or imminent lockdowns.

You would not want to show up at the gate only to find it is closed!

When you arrive, follow all restrictions for your safety and that of other visitors. That means, for example, wearing a mask if you are not vaccinated, and observing appropriate social distancing protocols.

4. Check what amenities will be available.

The Guardian reports, "If you do plan to visit a national park, be prepared for changing conditions – and don’t expect your visit will look like your pre-pandemic trips. Glacier, for instance, has not yet finalized decisions about which campgrounds will be open this summer, or whether the park’s shuttle buses will be in operation. In other popular parks, like Yosemite, shuttles, tours, and some visitors’ attractions will be closed for the summer, while dining areas will operate with COVID precautions, including social distancing."

So, if you need to, call ahead to find out what amenities you can expect. You do not want to find yourself with plans you cannot pursue.

5. Bring the right supplies to enjoy a comfortable camping trip.

Particularly since amenities may be limited, you will want to put extra time and thought into packing for your camping trip.

Bring a rugged, roomy waterproof tent where you can stay cozy and dry for the duration of your stay.

Mountain biker in waterproof tent

Also pack sleeping pads, pillows, backpacks, sunscreen, canteens, first aid supplies, food, basic repair tools, flashlights, layers of clothing, and personal supplies.

6. As always, leave no trace.

Last but not least, plan to be kind to our nation’s state and national parks. These are protected natural areas that are home to fragile ecosystems and geological features.

Leaving no trace is important any time you visit a park, but with so many visitors crowding the parks this year, it is more important than ever to do all you can to minimize your impact.

Make Your Reservations ASAP To Enjoy Your 2021 State Park Vacation.

Now you have our recommendations for how to make the most of your state park vacation in 2021. Get those bookings in as soon as you can to beat the rush, and pack supplies like a waterproof tent so you can stay comfortable during your visit to the great outdoors.